WINCHESTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — In a short meeting with no public discussion between Clark County Board of Education members, a motion was passed Friday to officially terminate the contract with the board attorney that reported an alleged ethics violation earlier this year.
The move has been questioned by some community members and two board members, chair Ashley Ritchie and vice chair William Taulbee, have said they think the move is retaliatory.
In February, Thomas reported to the Kentucky Attorney General an alleged ethics violation involving board of education member Sherry Richardson.
LEX 18 obtained records in September that indicate Richardson’s family business, Howard’s Overhead Doors, made more than $85,000 from a contractor on work and supplies for the new George Rogers Clark High School athletics complex.
Richardson’s personal attorney has said that he believes Richardson hasn’t violated any of the rules to be on a public school board in the state of Kentucky, and Richardson has urged people to withhold judgement until the attorney general investigation is complete.
The meeting Friday was held at noon, and few parents and community members were in attendance.
When asked by a community member during the meeting why it was held at a time when many were working and unable to attend, board member Megan Hendricks said that the meeting was for “housekeeping” purposes and the time worked for the majority of the board’s members.
Two of the board’s members, Ritchie and Taulbee, were unable to attend at the chosen time and had asked for the meeting to be held on a later date.
“Not to be overly negative, but what works for the board doesn’t always work for your constituents in all districts,” community member Tara Brinegar said during public comment. “And maybe that should be taken into consideration next time before you make such a large decision on something that affects the taxpayers and the dollars that they’re contributing to the hiring of these new services.”
Another parent, Nena Honaker, questioned the three board members in attendance on why they were replacing Thomas and asked what he’d done wrong.
“Was it something unethical? Was it something illegal?” Honaker asked. “Because that’ll end this conversation right here.”
“I am under the opinion that this is not the time to discuss that,” Hendricks said. “I think there are a lot of moving parts. I can say that the majority of us clearly did not feel comfortable and we chose to proceed that way.”
Richardson said during the meeting that she also felt that way, “but maybe not for the reasons you suspect.”
In August, Richardson made the motion to advertise for legal services, a move that opened Thomas’ job up to new applicants. Thomas re-applied and there were two new applicants for the job.
Thomas’ bid included his current lowered rate he has in place for the board at $80 an hour, which was less than half that of the other applicants. Taulbee called for Thomas to be rehired given the rate, but Richardson made a motion to interview all the candidates.
“I think it's a board that needs to feel comfortable,” Richardson said during that meeting. “And when you have an attorney that doesn't support one of its board members I think that's an issue.”
Taulbee and board chair Ashley Ritchie did not attend the interviews the following week, saying that the process should have waited due to questions about how the bids were handled.
After the publicly-held group interview of the candidates last week that lasted less than 45 minutes, Richardson immediately and without public discussion with other board members made a motion to hire a new firm; White Peck Carrington.
The motion passed with no discussion from either of the two other members at the meeting. During Friday’s meeting, the same three board members passed a motion to officially approve a contract for the newly hired legal services, again with no public discussion between them.
After the meeting Friday, Honaker expressed frustration that the contract in question hadn’t been made available to the public before it was approved.